NHL playoff beard tradition: Throw away the razors and let the razzing begin

RALEIGH, N.C. – When the NHL playoffs were about to start, Boston Bruins forward David Backes debated whether he should dispose of his razor.

“This is my ninth time in the playoffs and I’ve grown a beard each and every time,” Backes told USA TODAY Sports. “I have not yet been able to hoist the Stanley Cup. I was thinking, ‘Maybe this isn’t my superstition.’”

But tradition carried the day and Backes’ full beard is one of the best in the Bruins’ dressing room.    

Growing beards is as much an NHL playoff tradition as late nights, overtime goals and playing through injuries. Most players embrace the ritual, even if their efforts look like dirt smudges on their face.

Bruins right wing David Backes calls a playoff beard a "badge of honor." (Photo: Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports)

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“Given the history, you buy in,” Backes said. “It’s a badge of honor. You wear it around town, around your family. When it’s time for the game, you look at each other, you know how committed you are to this task.”

Razzing is accepted, even encouraged as part of this tradition. Sebastian Aho, 21, is the Carolina Hurricanes’ most important player – he’s a 30-goal scorer – but teammates show him no mercy about the fact a quality magnifying glass is required to see the hair on his chin.

“We give it to him all of the time – it’s well earned,” said Hurricanes defenseman Calvin de Haan.

Aho accepts the criticism of his scraggly beard gracefully.

“I don’t care,” he said. “It’s a fun tradition.”

Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho gets razzed about his scraggly beard. (Photo: Winslow Townson, USA TODAY Sports)

Carolina veteran Jordan Staal has a strong beard. But he is sympathetic to younger players because he remembers the days when his beard wasn’t as full as it is today.

Backes believes in giving concession to age.

“If they are in (their) young 20s and can't grow one, we encourage and tell them that someday those patches will fill in,” he said. “But if you are almost 30, and you don’t have much there, your effort will not be rewarded. You are going to take some ribbing.”

Boston forward Jake DeBrusk said he started growing playoff beards when he was playing junior hockey. He said the chirping over the beards is part of the fun and the bonding experience.

He said when someone’s beard comes in too light or too gray, the standard razz is to tell him to “get some Just For Men (coloring) so we can see it.”

DeBrusk said he enjoys seeing the beards show up on guys who wouldn’t normally wear them.

“I think they think it makes them look tougher,” he said, laughing.

It’s impossible to know with certainty how the playoff beard tradition was started. Retired NHLer Tom Laidlaw said he recalls the early New York Islanders championship teams in the early 1980s being mentioned for their playoff beards.

Fully bearded Islanders captain Denis Potvin looks at the Stanley Cup after winning the 1980 Final. (Photo: Richard Drew, AP)

He said playoff beards were big with his New York Rangers in the 1980s.

“It was a given that you were going to grow a beard – it was part of the playoff lore,” Laidlaw said. “Some guys also grew their hair out longer. And we’d give it to each other about how bad the beards looked.”

When Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet started with the Philadelphia Flyers in the mid-1980s, he remembers that it was “only groups or pockets of players” on teams growing beards.

“I didn’t like them personally,” Tocchet said, “because I had a tough time sleeping with a beard. And to me, sleeping was important in the playoffs. I’d rather shave my head.”

But Tocchet appreciates the value of the beard tradition today. As a coach, he likes traditions that bring players closer together.

“It’s a good rallying cry,” he said.

Check out this year's beards in playoff gallery below

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